March 22nd marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the report of the so-called “Shafer Commission” — the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse — whose members were appointed by then-President Richard Nixon. The Shafer Commission’s (named after commission Chair, Gov. Raymond Shafer of Pennsylvania) 1972 report, entitled “Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding,” boldly proclaimed that “neither the marihuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety” and recommended Congress and state legislatures decriminalize the use and casual distribution of marijuana for personal use.
Though rejected by Nixon — who refused to even read the report — and largely ignored by Congress, the influence of the Shafer Commission report thirty-years later should not be overlooked. In the years that followed its release, NORML took the Commission’s findings from state-to-state. Ultimately, this dialogue was instrumental in convincing 11 state legislatures to decriminalize criminal penalties for the possession of minor amounts of marijuana — policies that remain in effect today. In many other states, the Commission’s recommendations were cited as justification for relaxing marijuana penalties for minor offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. By 1977, even the President of the United States was convinced: then-President Jimmy Carter — citing the Shafer Commission — told Congress “Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to the individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use.”
“According to a recent Zogby Poll,” said NORML’s Executive Director Keith Stroup, “61% of the voters nationwide currently agree with the Shafer Commission conclusion that responsible marijuana smokers should not be arrested or jailed; only 33% support policies that treat marijuana smokers like criminals. Yet over 700,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges last year. It’s time for our elected officials to decriminalize the personal possession and use of marijuana by adults. It was the right thing to do then and it’s the right thing to do now. President Bush should read this report.” A copy of Gov. Shafer’s letter to President Nixon and Congress follows.
Read the entire Shafer Commission report here